Ennerdale Bridge to Borrowdale
I reached for my stove, mug and drinking supplies, then, and put some water on to boil for a cup of tea. I've been taking filter coffee on backpacking trips for the last year or so, but this time I'd decided to go with tea bags to make the process quicker. Sure enough, it was less than 5 minutes later that I was sipping appreciatively at a mug of tea and thinking about where I might camp that night. I was hoping to have dinner at the very highly regarded (read: "drooled over") Langstrath Country Inn in Stonethwaite. Having rung at the last moment a few days earlier, though, I'd been too late to book a room, and so now I was wondering whether they'd be willing to feed a solo diner.
Uncertain, but hopeful, I began to think about wriggling out of my sleeping kit and into my walking clothes. I'm very slow to pack up and get going in the morning, and one of the reasons for that is that I don't like taking off my warm and cozy sleeping clothes. I procrastinated a little by trying out my new and quite lovely PhD down booties (now tragically discontinued), but eventually it was time to stop faffing about, and to get down to the business of the day.
I got into my walking clothes--including my shorts, because another quick peep out suggested that the morning might be quite sunny--emerged from the tent backwards and limped rather stiffly across to the pub. The door was still locked, but it was easy enough to find the kitchen window and tap on it. Moments later a kind bloke let me in, and I made my way to the loos to perform the usual morning rituals. 10 minutes later I made my way back to the tent and began to get my things together and pack up.
It was nice to have the luxury of a table to rest my various bags on as I was organising my packing. I managed to move more quickly than I normally do in the morning, and by about 0810 I was leaving the pub...
...and on my way back to the road that leads to the lake. I noticed honeysuckle in the low vegetation at the roadside, and stopped to admire the fascinating caterpillars once again. After that I pressed on a little more determinedly, though, as I didn't want to waste the benefits of my early start.
It was a lovely morning: bright and sunny, with everything looking fresh, and drenched in dew. I tried several times to take photographs, but they've all come out blurred: probably because I was taking them into the sun.
Eventually the road gave way to a track as Ennerdale Water came into view...
...and as I strode along past what must have been Broadmoor Plantation I experienced one of the two most embarrassing things that can happen to a backpacker... Singing along enthusiastically to something or other on my MP3 player, I saw a movement to my left and realised, with a shock, that a man on a bike had been riding alongside me for an indeterminate period, apparently listening! I frowned across at him and attempted to look serious and preoccupied, and fortunately he soon rode on...
Arriving at the end of the lake I realised that it was now so warm that I'd need to take a layer off, and so I stopped for five minutes, took off some clothes and tucked them away inside my pack. I then set off again, and only realised as I saw them fly away in front of me that I'd disturbed a couple of herons; they must have been sitting at or near the edge of the water.
I took a picture of the happy looking cows grazing near the lake...
...and then one of myself raring to go (apologies for the dreadful contrast again: I'm not sure whether I was having a bad photo day, or whether I've broken my camera)...
...and then I finally embarked on the walk around the side of the lake. I soon stopped, though, for a picture of a couple of ducks having a chat on a rock...
...what a lovely place they'd chosen for their conversation!
My habit of walking along with my eyes to the ground soon revealed a prettily striped caterpillar, but the piccy is blurred and so I've reduced it in size to create a general impression of what it looked like. Any ideas, anyone, of what it might have been?
The path along the side of the lake is undulating and very pretty...
...with occasional gates providing perfect opportunities to play with the timer.
I was feeling fit, and making fairly rapid progress, and I supppose it took me a little over an hour to get to the point at which the lake ended and the path crossed to the north of the River Liza. I knew from past experience that the long, long haul along the north side of the river through the seemingly endless pine forest to Black Sail hut is tedious beyond description, and demoralising, and I'd therefore decided to adopt the suggestion made in the brick to take a path along the south of the river instead. First I needed to be sure that I'd identified the correct path, though, and given my navigational uncertainties I spent 10 minutes or so poking at the compass, making brief, exploratory sorties into the woods and culling grid references from my little GPS. I wasn't quite sure that I'd got the right place, but eventually I decided I'd better get going, and so I did.
It became clear fairly quickly that I was on the right path, and certainly it was much less boring and hard on the feet than the one on the other side. It was a little overgrown, though, and damp in places, and it continued in a slightly dishevelled sort of way, sticking fairly close to the river at most points. At one stage it moved over to the right a bit, and soon afterwards I almost missed the point at which I should drop down again. I was listening to my MP3 player as I walked, but something in the periphery of my mind noticed a small pile of rocks housing a small branch, and correctly recognised it as an indication that it was time to turn left. I'll be applying to Ray Mears for my Tracker Badge any day soon :)
The path eventually made its way through a beech wood, and there I came across some really amazing toadstools. I love toadstools, and so I couldn't help stopping to take some pictures. I've included the handle of one of my Pacerpoles to provide a little perspective.
I tried not to think too hard about how long it might take me to get to Black Sail, because (as mentioned above) I know this part of the walk has the potential to feel interminable, and I didn't want it to become a chore. Still, though, from time to time I took a careful look at the progress I was making, to try to work out how much further it might be.
I came across two quite enormous toadstools - the one on the right is quite possibly the largest I've ever seen - and it struck me that relatively small numbers of people must take this path.
I'm often very sorry to find bits and pieces of interesting toadstools broken and scattered across the ground when I'm walking, as apparently, and unaccountably, quite a lot of people enjoy smashing them to pieces. Please! Don't hurt defenceless fungi :) Cuddle a toadstool today.
I then found a quite astoundingly beautiful violet coloured toadstool. In fact there were 3, apparently at different stages of development, and all of them quite young and small.
I've never seen such a lovely colour in a fungus before. I think from a study of my Collins Gem - Mushrooms & Toadstools that they must have been Amethyst Deceivers,
Soon after that I started to pay closer attention to my progress along the Liza, as the path rose again to the right and moved away from the river. I didn't want to find that I'd progressed so far along the southerly path that I was unable to cross back over to Black Sail, and so when I saw a bridge I had a bit of a look at the map and decided to take it. It's possible that I might have been able to get further along, but I was tired by then, and looking forward to a coffee, and I didn't want to take a chance on having to walk all the way back. My reward came within 10 minutes in the form of my first sight of the hut - hurrah!!!
I'd been hoping that Black Sail might be open for coffee and snacky things, as last time I was there the Warden had all sorts of interesting snacky things for sale, and a hot drink provided by somebody else always feels like a luxury to me in the middle of a day's walk. Better than that, though, it turned out that there's now a new system. The hut is open during the day, and visitors are welcome to make themselves a tea or coffee in the kitchen, leaving an appropriate donation in the honesty box. There was even cake! Drool... So I dumped my pack outside and went in to make myself a drink. While I was waiting for the kettle to boil I thought about all those miles I'd already walked, and quickly scoffed the largest of the pieces of cake before I could have a crisis of conscience about it. Heh...
I then carried my coffee to one of the tables, got out my trusty Cheese & Onion pasty for lunch and settled back to take a closer look at the room. I've been intending to stay overnight at Black Sail for many years now, but I haven't been organized enough to get round to it, and so I'd not had an opportunity in the past for more than a passing glance.
There was a lovely memorial to Chris Brasher, founder of the London Marathon, amongst a host of other achievements...
...which makes reference to the fabled Thursday Curry Nights which are, unfortunately, no more...
...and there were also old and interesting photographs and bits and pieces of kit and other interesting detritus. It was while I was sipping my coffee and studying these things that I noticed a movement outside the window, and looked up to find members of the Sherpa group looking in. A moment later John The Leader entered, and after him came a few of the others for a look around.
When I'd finished my pasty I went out for a chat before moving on--there was a brief but interesting interlude when Jan was attacked by a predatory sheep to which she'd earlier slipped a bit of her sandwich--and then we all moved on together in the direction of Loft Beck. The beck provides a very steep but not awfully long route up the side of the hill, and it's something I was looking forward to as I've always enjoyed it in the past.
On the way across the Sherpa people stopped to re-group and I continued. A couple of men were doing some path building at the foot of the path, and we exchanged a few words as I passed, and then I set off up. Stopping shortly afterwards I saw the Sherpa people setting off below.
A little while later I looked down again and found John whizzing up the hill behind me. I stopped for a chat and we spoke for a few minutes, mainly about the film Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, because he asked me what I was listening to on my MP3 player. After that I pressed on to the top and waited there, a little unsure about whether to turn right immediately or to do so only after crossing to a stile some 50 metres away. I chatted with Jan and Will as we all recovered our breath.
When the rest of the Sherpa group arrived they took a vote and then set off in the direction of Innominate Tarn, Wainwright's favourite tarn and the place where his ashes were scattered. I turned right and set off for Honister, in the hope that The Yew Tree in Seatoller, which has long been one of my favourite places, might be open for coffee, or maybe even a sneaky beer.
I was soon lost on the top--with the benefit of hindsight, I probably should have crossed to the stile before pressing on--and so I managed to waste 30 minutes or more taking a very circuitous route. I'm delighted to see that even Henry Stedman concedes in his brick that it's easy to get lost at the top of Loft Beck, stating:
"The ascent up Loft Beck is hard but it's at the top, when you're trying to locate the correct path down to Honister Hause, that real problems can occur."
So it wasn't just me! :)
Anyway, I got there eventually, passing along the way a slate building that I immediately recognised as a place in which I'd taken shelter and eaten lunch with some walking pals when we spent a weekend in Buttermere last summer.
It was a lovely afternoon, though, and so I didn't really mind the extra time...
...and I was briefly tempted to stop at the Honister slate quarry for some sort of sustenance: more for the principle of the thing than from any sense of thirst or hunger. I pressed on, though, as I still had The Yew Tree in mind.
So did the Slate Quarry, it seemed.
It's a bit of a hike down the Honister Pass...
...but I reminded myself that it was much easier walking down than it had been trying to run up when I'd done the Buttermere Round in February 2003!
Eventually I got down...
...but I was crushed to find The Yew Tree closed. Sob! All was not totally lost, though, because on the other side of the road was a new (to me) shop, and there I was able to buy the two Harveys Coast to Coast maps that I'd been hoping to get hold of since finding that I couldn't read my Anquet maps on the way out of St. Bees. Also, the woman running the shop admired my shorts, and I was highly delighted by that since they'd been an unexpected last-minute bargain in Black's, and I'd almost not bothered to take them with me. Heh :)
I'd been planning to camp in Stonethwaite, as that's where the Langstrath is, but I forgot about that when I came, a little more than a mile later, to the first campsite on the right hand side. To be more accurate, I didn't discount the idea of pressing on to the Stonethwaite campsite: I actually forgot that Stonethwaite was a different place, and that this was SomethingElseThwaite, blinded, as I was, by the sight of a place to put up the tent right in front of me. In any event, I scooted across the road PDQ, had a quick scout round the field and chose a nice place on a small mound. I know that Borrowdale can be a very midgey place to camp, but fortunately there didn't seem to be many around.
Having erected the tent I was very keen to find a pub where I could get a beer. When I'd spoken to the Sherpa people at lunchtime I'd told them I was hoping to eat at the Langstrath, and they'd suggested that I might eat at their table to get round the potential problem of not having booked. That was very kind, but at the same time I didn't want to simply descend upon the Langstrath without asking them first, and so I decided to walk down there to check that the arrangement was okay with them, and I hoped that I might be able to combine the excursion with a pint.
The walk to Stonethwaite was lovely--it felt like about a mile, or possibly a little less--and again I was struck by what a truly lovely place it would be to live. I was relieved upon arrival at the Langstrath to find that they were serving drinks to non-residents--I'd been told that they might not be, since apparently things tend to be closed in Borrowdale on Mondays. I asked about dinner and was told that they could fit me in--they didn't mind whether I sat with the Sherpa people or not--and so I retired happily to a table outside, bathed by the late afternoon sun, with a pint of Black Sheep.
After my pint I set off back to my campsite in the hope of a shower. A quick recce revealed what purported to be showers next to the toilets, with rather ancient-looking coin boxes. There were signs of spiders' webs on the boxes, and I saw no traces of water on the shower floors. Still, I was desperate and so decided to risk my small change in the coin box and cross my fingers. In fact, it turned out that I didn't have the necessary change, but I approached a few other campers and managed to get some in exchange for what I had.
Clutching my 50 pence pieces to my chest I made my way back to the tent for my wash kit and change of clothes, and a short time later I was back at the showers and reciting a short incantation for luck. Rather to my surprise, the showers worked. They made some fairly strange noises as they ground into action, though, so possibly they were surprised too. Still, the bottom line is that I had a very lovely shower--hot, powerful enough and quite long-lasting--and I'd highly recommend them to other sweaty walkers :)
Dressing for dinner took as long as it ever takes me while backpacking--about 30 seconds--and some time before 7pm I set off back to the Inn. The early evening was now balmy and mellow, and once again the walk was lovely. On arrival at the bar I decided to treat myself to a G&T, and then I retired with my book to a corner where I happily studied the menu. Maybe 15 minutes later John arrived, and we went to sit outside. Will was next, and he joined us at a table with Helen and Robert, who'd taken the high level alternative and were still buzzing from the experience. I'd given brief thought to taking the ridge walk but I'm so fond of Black Sail that I'd dismissed the idea. Hearing about the great walk that Helen and Robert had had, though, I was a little sorry not to have gone that way.
Eventually it was time to go in for dinner, and we found the others at the table that had been set aside for Sherpa in a separate dining room. There I was introduced to three Americans--sisters Sue and Sharon, and Sue's husband, Dick. There were also two further sisters, one of whom was from New Zealand, but they arrived just a little later than the others and somehow I didn't ever manage to get their names quite straight in my mind.
There were various tempting dinner options, but in the end I went for trout pate followed by salmon and haddock fishcakes with chips. Yum yum! It was all very good, and afterwards I managed to squeeze down a piece of warmed chocolate brownie.
Everybody seemed to vanish into thin air very quickly once the meal was over, and for the second time that day I set off to walk back to my campsite. The good weather had held, and I enjoyed staring at the stars as I made my way back. I took a quick detour via the loo, where I wrote up my brief note of the evening's proceedings, and then I walked across the field to my tent. A very short time later I was fast asleep... Zzzzzz...
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